The plea – “We are starving and need food and water”- that an Atlanta-area detective turned up from New Mexico marked a dramatic twist in a child abduction case involving a 3-year-old Clayton County boy whose father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, took him away last December.
AJC The detective forwarded the message to Taos County, New Mexico Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe, who executed a search warrant Friday on a makeshift compound that authorities believed was operated by armed Muslim extremists.
After a standoff with two metro Atlanta men inside the heavily armed encampment, officers arrested and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj — the fugitive wanted in the child abduction case as well as Lucas Allen Morten. But they weren’t the only ones at the property that had no running water, plumbing or electricity.
Deputies discovered 11 children, ages ranging from 1 to 15, and at least three women — believed to be their mothers — living there. Sheriff Hogrefe said in a statement they “looked like Third World refugees not only with no food or fresh water, but no shoes, personal hygiene and basically dirty bags for clothes.”
Morten is charged with harboring a fugitive, and Wahhaj faces arrest on a child abduction warrant from Georgia. His missing son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, was not at the compound and none of the adults detained — including the three women who were questioned would offer information about his possible whereabouts.
The sheriff’s news release Saturday said his office had been investigating the case for two months along with the FBI and authorities in Clayton County. FBI agents had been conducting surveillance on the compound, but federal authorities did not believe there was probable cause to conduct a search, the sheriff said. That changed when the Clayton County detective forwarded the tip to the sheriff’s office.
Eight deputies and four state officers executed the warrant Friday morning. They believed the occupants “were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist Muslims,” the release said. Wahhaj was holed up in the compound with a loaded AR-15 rifle, five 30-round magazines and four loaded pistols, including one he kept in his pocket. Additional ammo was found scattered in the compound.
The search for the 3-year-old boy continues.